X-Cuses: iPhone X Facial Recognition Will Not Meet Expectations

Posted on October 25, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in iOS with 130 Comments

X-Cuses: iPhone X Facial Recognition Will Not Meet Expectations

In an astonishing turn of events, Apple has secretly told the press that iPhone X facial recognition will not work well. So you can pre-order an iPhone X on Friday if you want. But you may want to hold off a bit.

I assume you’re up on the self-imposed issues that Apple faces at the moment. But the short version is this: The Cupertino consumer electronics giant misfired on a new iPhone strategy this fall by launching three new models for the first time. Two of them, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, are old-fashioned looking and have faced battery reliability issues. And one of them, the iPhone X, is more forward-leaning in aping the near bezel-less screen design that Samsung innovated, but with a compromising “notch” at the top of the screen that even Apple’s biggest fans have described as a mistake.

I think most would forgive Apple the notch were it not for the iPhone X’s suspicious reliance on facial recognition for log-in. Unlike the previous several generations of iPhones, the iPhone X does not feature a Touch ID sensor for finger-based sign-ins. And with Apple unable to get in-screen fingerprint detection working in time for the launch, the firm went with plan B: Facial recognition.

Well, now it’s going with plan C. Which is to seed the press with the bad news that this technology does not work very well. In doing so, it can temper expectations for the product and assure that only its most-forgiving fans will buy an iPhone X, preventing the public embarrassment of rampant complaints.

“Apple quietly told suppliers they could reduce the accuracy of the face-recognition technology to make it easier to manufacture, according to people familiar with the situation,” Bloomberg reported. “A less accurate Face ID will still be far better than the existing Touch ID [but] the company’s decision to downgrade the technology for this model shows how hard it’s becoming to create cutting-edge features that consumers are hungry to try.”

I’m sorry, what? “A less accurate Face ID will still be far better than the existing Touch ID”? That cannot be true. Touch ID is fantastic. Even a full-working Face ID would likely not be as good.

Anyway, the Bloomberg report goes on to chronicle the Apple-centric history of what happened with iPhone X production: Apple was struggling to get sufficient components for the phone and needed fewer people to put it together. And the main culprit, its source say, was the 3D sensor that recognizes faces and unlocks the handset.

Apple’s “tight schedule” further complicated matters, Bloomberg says. It underestimated the complexity of making and assembling exceedingly fragile components, the sources told it. And this also explains why the iPhone X is shipping six weeks after the iPhone 8/Plus.

As you may know, the facial scanner in the iPhone X is based on the technology that Microsoft first used, disastrously, in its Xbox Kinect sensor. This probably explains why it works so poorly: If Microsoft could never perfect this in a relatively huge device, how could Apple’s component makers ever fit the technology into “a space a few centimeters across and millimeters deep”?

This has the makings of a disaster, and in the sense that it’s always tough to bet on first-gen technology, you might want to just take a year off on this one. I’m sure the iPhone XS (“excess”) will get it right in late 2018.

And Bloomberg has come to the same conclusion I have: Apple will likely sell fewer handsets in a launch quarter than it did the year before for the first time ever.

“Signs of weakness in iPhone 8 sales means Apple could sell fewer handsets than last year, despite all the fanfare surrounding the iPhone X,” it notes. Yep.

 

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